On 25 November 2020, German Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Engin Eroglu of the Renew Europe Group posed a written parliamentary question to the European Commission:
“210 million people worldwide suffer from addiction to social media or the internet. In Europe, social media usage rose by 23% in the five years up until 2019. Some children and adults even spend up to nine hours a day on social media. 71% of young people sleep next to their smartphones and 10% look at their phone more than ten times per night. It has also been proven that teenagers who spend more than five hours a day on their smartphones are twice as likely to develop depressive symptoms. So we can see how young people in particular are vulnerable in the face of social media.
1. Many social media are officially accessible only from the age of 13 or 14. What scope does the Commission see for monitoring this?
2. What EU programmes or campaigns are there to educate young people about the dangers and risks of social media?
3. According to experts, the recommended age for young people to join social media is 16. Are there any EU initiatives to raise the age for registration on social media or at least standardise it among the different platforms?”
On 1 February 2021, Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton responded on behalf of the European Commission stating: “The EU’s commitment to make the Internet a safer and better place for children is more important than ever, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when children rely more on social media. The Commission is aware of the importance of quality of screen time, as well as quantity, and its impact on mental health.
It is committed to ensuring protection from harmful content for minors. The EU Strategy on the rights of the child, planned for adoption in March 2021, will also address such issues.
Social media qualifying as video-sharing platforms (VSPs) are required under the Audiovisual Media Services Directive to establish and operate age verification systems for users of VSPs with respect to content, which may impair the physical, mental or moral development of children.
Member States have an obligation to establish the necessary mechanisms to assess the appropriateness of the measures taken by VSPs providers, with assessment entrusted to national regulatory authorities or bodies.
Under the European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children, Safer Internet Centres across Europe provide information and support to children and parents on online risks, including those posed by social media.
The EU funded portal Better Internet for Kids offers resources in different EU languages, with guidance on online safety and digital risks. Article 8 of the General Data Protection Regulation requires that processing of the personal data on the basis of consent in relation to the offer of information society services directly to a child shall be lawful if the child is at least 16 years old.
If a child is below that age, consent should be given or authorised by the holder of parental responsibility. Member States can provide for a lower age, however not below 13 years old. At present, there are no plans to revise this provision.”
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